Let’s face it, after the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor, all anyone really wants to know is whether Peter Capaldi is up to scratch. So first impressions first…I don’t know. And that is the reaction of many people really because it is genuinely difficult to gauge his ability based on five minutes, or less, of screen time. Even those with gut reactions of dislike or appeal will inevitably add ‘but I would need to see more to be sure. Of course, the change was rather abrupt, Capaldi has terrifying eyebrows and the kidney line doesn’t quite match previous incarnations first words and yet, it is impossible to imagine how Capaldi will work in a full length episode based on that one brief appearance.
Regarding the rest of the episode, personally it came across as rather hit and miss. Some explanation of how he came to own a cyberman head would have been nice, even as just a brief lead into the first scene where The Doctor is trying to decipher the code. Without that explanation that first sequence appeared oddly out of sync. And there was a lot going on in that beginning. First there was the voice over, then the Doctor on a Dalek ship, then on the TARDIS orbiting a planet along with thousands of other ships and species’, jumping on to a cyberman ship and then receiving a call from Clara. The synchronicity of the Doctor bounding up and down the TARDIS and Clara frantically attempting to cook a turkey was a nice parallel but the overall episode probably would have benefited from a calmer lead-in.
The pacing for this entire episode was confusing and disorientating. One moment the Doctor would be having a parley with Orla Brady’s Mother Superior and then the narrative would wiz over centuries of the Doctor’s life. Understandably, the siege of Trenzalore was meant to an epic event but in that case Christmas Day was not the time for it to happen. Have the siege start at the end of a season and open the next season or the special with the Doctor as an old man, or even as Capaldi and tell the rest of the story through flashbacks. As it was, it was coherent but seemed rushed. Perhaps Matt Smith’s leaving forced Steven Moffat to whip up something quick and the pacing of the episode suffered. Admittedly, Doctor Who often has lots of dialogue followed by a great deal of running and action and usually to great effect but it just was misused in this single episode.
So why would Smith’s leaving cause the episode to be rushed? After all, Smith announced that he was leaving on June first of last year and filming for the Christmas special didn’t begin until September of that same year. Moffat had plenty of time to write an episode and work out any structural kinks. The problem was that Moffat wanted to wrap up all the strands of Smith’s doctor before introducing Capaldi. Admirable, but that meant revisiting the ‘Silence will fall’ line, Trenzalore and others. There were certainly references galore but honestly, I would have preferred if the story actually followed on into Capaldi’s story. The new Doctor is already inheriting Clara, so why not allow him to inherit some of Eleven’s problems? Though they had different personalities, they are one person and stories shouldn’t end just because he doesn’t like fish fingers and custard anymore.
The romantic implications were somewhat awkward as well. That isn’t to say that Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman don’t have chemistry, they do, but those parts felt forced. Clara calling to ask the Doctor to act as her boyfriend felt like a plot from How I Met Your Mother or some other romantic situational comedy. Having her showing up and catching him naked wouldn’t have out of place as a meet-cute in such a show either. She almost declares her love for him in the truth field and her reaction after he sends her back home is similar to how one might handle a break up. It doesn’t help that her family treat as such because of the aforementioned boyfriend charade and that her grandmother tells her the story of how she met her grandfather to comfort her.
The romance itself doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that Clara and the Doctor have never been presented in this way before. The tenth Doctor had his moments with Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, the unrequited love with Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones and the adamant denial with Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble but the eleventh has generally avoided this kind of thing. Even when presented with Karen Gillian’s Amy Pond on a bed, the eleventh Doctor balked at the idea. Of course, this episode gave us no indication of Eleven’s feelings on the matter but this has never been something that cropped up between him and Clara before so for it to happen in this episode is rather strange. Also, I like Clara and I don’t want her to wind up being Capaldi’s Martha, constantly pinning after a Doctor that she can’t have.
The episode on the whole was good, better than some previous specials such as The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe but less cohesive than Clara’s previous jaunt out in The Snowmen. I would have preferred a stronger episode for Smith to go out on but now I can look forward to Capaldi’s first season, which will be a full, continuous season of thirteen episodes. My hope for that season is that, after Tennant and Smith’s energetic, life of the party type characters that Capaldi might be a more down to earth, living in the shadows kind of creature. Possibly make him a more capable fighter, like the Third Doctor was, following the Eleventh’s renewed willingness to stand his ground, rather than simply thwarting plans and running. A more methodical Doctor would be a nice change of pace but most of all, I hope he is compelling.